School Dept. Update from Lowell Sun 6/12/11

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School Dept. Update from Lowell Sun 6/12/11

Postby swamper on Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:29 pm

State probes Tewksbury School Dept. bidding records
By Joyce Tsai, jtsai@lowellsun.com
Updated: 06/12/2011 06:41:31 AM EDT



TEWKSBURY -- The State Ethics Commission and the Inspector General's office have requested procurement records and documents from the School Department that track the awarding of school maintenance jobs to former wiring inspector Jeremiah "Jay" Delaney.

Superintendent of Schools John O'Connor said he was asked to provide records about two weeks ago, and the department complied.

He said he believed the inquiry was prompted by recent stories about procurement "red flags" and an audit by the district, which found a lack of competitive bidding for certain school maintenance jobs.


The Powers and Sullivan audit, released in February, confirmed that the department violated the state's uniform-procurement law. That law requires that a job or set of jobs valuing $5,000 or more should be awarded based on at least three written or oral proposals. Auditors "could not find evidence documenting that sound business practices were used in any of the years under review," from 2001 to 2009, the audit states.


The commission and the IG's office "could neither confirm or deny they had been reviewing any matters or made any requests for information, due to strict confidentiality requirements imposed by statue." Both commission spokesman David Giannotti and IG spokesman Jack McCarthy declined to comment further.


By state statute, the commission and IG both conduct their business in secret, so that privacy issues and reputations are not put at stake.


Only the most egregious matters that warrant a fine or public enforcement actions are made public, because all other matters are required to be confidential.


Former School Committee Chairman Michael Kelley said he was disappointed that some decisions often remain confidential.


"You'd think if it's a violation of the public law and the public trust, it's important for the public to know what was decided," he said. "And you'd think that it could serve as a lesson to others that this type of activity is not permitted."


"And if people see you are able to get away with those violations, then there's no retribution," he said. "And what's to discourage people from acting in an immoral or unethical way?"


Jack Quinn, the school district's chief procurement officer and business manager, announced last month that he will retire. A couple of current school board members said Quinn's retirement was unrelated to the audit findings.


However, Kelley said Quinn's decision to retire may have not been entirely voluntary.


Kelley says he received a call from O'Connor in mid-April, asking if Kelley was planning to follow through with plans to send the audit's findings and other documentation to both state agencies.


He said O'Connor asked Kelley if he would reconsider, if Quinn were to resign.


Kelley agreed, and didn't send the information, because he thought the move was important for the district: "I truly think we need a fresh start in the office. So I said, 'If Jack wants to retire, that's fine.'"


The superintendent, who has said that he believed the procurement decisions were made in the best interest of the school district, asked Kelley to give him until the end of the day to talk to Quinn.


It would take a couple more phone calls, but O'Connor finally told Kelley: "It's all set -- we are going to announce it at the next meeting."


Later, Quinn, with just shy of 14 years of service to the district, announced his retirement to the School Committee in an executive session.


The news wouldn't be unveiled publicly until the committee's next meeting in May, after Kelley's tenure as committee chairman ended.


"I thought it was the best for everyone involved," Kelley said about Quinn's resignation. "I really felt it served two purposes: for the superintendent to have a new organization come in and have a fresh start -- and the second was that it gives everyone, transitional leadership included, the full visibility of what occurred, so we go through and analyze those events."


O'Connor declined to comment on whether Kelley's request may have spurred Quinn's retirement.


"I don't think Quinn was complicit, but that there were clearly lax controls in place," Kelley said. "I have no ill will toward him. I hope he has a good retirement, and it was an unfortunate situation that occurred."


But it doesn't serve the public good to keep such problems quiet -- it's a matter of public trust, Kelley said.


Delaney has said he believes he was unfairly fired, because the town failed to have proper procedures and policies in place.


Delaney said he was questioned by the Ethics Commission about a month ago. They didn't find anything, he said, but he said he couldn't go into further details.


"I got screwed," he said of the fact he was the only one who got fired, but then he relented: "But who am I to say?"


But he said he thought the agencies looking into the case might redeem him.


"I didn't do anything wrong to begin with -- and this will prove it even a little bit further, that people made the wrong decision," he said.

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadline ... z1P6OHk07o
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